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Godly endeavor

Poverty fighter Darrow Miller says a change in attitudes about labor would work wonders in developing countries


Godly endeavor
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Darrow Miller, a 27-year veteran of Food for the Hungry, is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and the author of several excellent books including LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM Publishing, 2009). In it he shows well the importance of battling dualism and the sacred-secular dichotomy so that we can appreciate the biblical theology of vocation and see how vital it is to economic development in poor countries.

Q: Where did you grow up? In the suburbs of West Los Angeles. I was a beach boy and a lifeguard. Did a lot of body-surfing.

Q: What happened when you were 19 and went with a work team to Mexico? It changed my life. For the first time in my life I saw poverty. I had seen pictures of poverty but had never seen poverty. Pulling into Mexico City we drove through a slum. I saw kids going through piles of garbage and people living in houses made out of trash. I could not imagine that anyone had to live like that. God used that to shake me. I couldn't have told you then that I'd be working for Food for the Hungry for 27 years, but I knew I had to do something about it.

Q: Then, during your 20s, you spent three years at L'Abri in Switzerland. What's most memorable? In the middle of answering a question Francis Schaeffer said, "If you want to understand why South America is relatively poor while North America is relatively wealthy, look at the ideas that came from Southern Europe and Northern Europe." That's all he said. I never heard him delve into that, but it was in the back of my mind.

Q: How did the ideas of Southern Europe and Northern Europe differ? The ideas from Northern Europe were based on a biblical worldview-for instance, that work is part of our dignity. Work is part of what God gave us to do before the fall. I've been a Christian for 50 years, and in 50 years I've heard two sermons on work. That's amazing, because most of us work for the majority of our adult lives. The last sermon I heard on work was when my pastor said that work is part of the curse. I went up to him afterwards and said, "That's not right. Work existed before the fall. That should frame how we understand the concept of work." So there's Genesis 1 as opposed to Genesis 3. Most Christians today are Genesis 3 Christians. They begin reading the Bible with Genesis 3 to set up the cross. But if you begin reading the Bible at Genesis 1 you see that work is part of our dignity, and you get that by reading Genesis 1.

Q: Before the fall God gives Adam intellectual work, naming the animals, and physical work, tending the garden? Yes, and in Genesis 2 God rested from his work, so rooted in God's own nature is work. When He makes us in His own image, He makes us to work. This understanding is lacking today in our world but especially in the developing world.

Q: In 1981 you started traveling to the developing world with Food for the Hungry. What did that teach you? I was amazed both at the profoundness of poverty and the amounts of money being spent by governmental and non-governmental organizations. I thought, if the root of the problem were lack of money and lack of resources, the problem should be solved. But the more I traveled, the more I saw that lack of resources was not the problem. Look at Africa: It's by far the continent most abundant in natural resources. Africa has also been evangelized: Fifty percent of all the people on the continent profess Christ, and in some sub-Saharan nations it's 70 percent or 80 percent. So if you have the wealthiest continent in the world in terms of natural resources, it's been evangelized, and the people have been saved and the churches are full on Sunday, why the poverty? I came to conclude that it had nothing to do with natural resources and everything to do with worldview, or mindset.

Q: Many in developing countries see work as a curse? Yes, and that mindset will create economic outcomes. If when you have "arrived" you don't work, and you're a second-class citizen if you have to work, then the goal of society is not to work. I was sharing that idea once in Venezuela and a woman said, "I have a song that describes the concept of work as a curse." We were in a group of about 20 or 30 people and within the first line of the song everybody who spoke Spanish, from five different countries, started singing along. It talks about work being made for animals and human beings made to dance. So you have an ancient concept that is coming over into modern society through the arts, and everybody in the Latin world can sing this song.

Q: You write about Gnosticism: What is it, and what effect does it have in the United States? Gnosticism is an ancient Greek concept adopted into the church years and years ago. Gnosticism says there's a spiritual world and a physical world: The spiritual is higher and the physical is lower. I can't tell you how many times I've spoken with Christians who say, "I want to go into full-time Christian service." That means leaving law, engineering, farming, etc., to do something "higher": to be a pastor, an evangelist, or a church planter. A dualistic mindset permeates much of the church around the world: The best and the brightest want to leave "secular" or "worldly" work to become spiritual workers. But the Bible won't allow you to do that, because it begins in a garden where we're given the task to develop the earth, and it ends in a city, the City of God. Work within a biblical context is something that we've all been called to do, and there's no division between the sacred and the secular. If you have been called to be an artist you are to pursue your art as your vocation, not think it's a higher calling to be a missionary and go overseas.

Q: How would a new emphasis on work affect Africans? They can begin to bring development to their own communities using their own resources. Pastor Luke from Nairobi went to one of our conferences and then went back to the people in his community, who were so poor they couldn't send many of their children to school. Pastor Luke said, "We need to start a school. We don't have any money." But he had six young people in his church who had been taught to read and write. He challenged them. They became teachers, teaching children in this slum to read and write. I visited the school two years after it started: 250 kids in this school were learning to read and write. And what did they start with? Time. These kids, these six teenagers, had time because they didn't have jobs. What else did they have? They could read and write. You begin with what you have.

Q: If young Americans want to think differently about work, how should they begin? Look at the whole of society and look at what God has put inside of you. What inflames your heart? Maybe what will inflame your heart can lead you to make lots of money, but money isn't the issue. It's the kingdom of God. He has called you not just to Christ but to advance His kingdom in the areas for which He has gifted you. So if you have a heart to be a lawyer, then pursue law, but not within the framework of, "This is about making money," but "How do I bring justice, real justice, into American life?" If you have a heart for art, how can you kingdom-ize that love, to bring beauty into this society, in little increments, for the advancement of the Kingdom of God? To hear Marvin Olasky's interview with Darrow Miller, click here.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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